Liz Truss ‘has sewage on her hands’ from Environment Agency cuts | Liz Truss

Tory leadership favorite Liz Truss was responsible for cutting millions of pounds of funding to tackle water pollution during her time as environment secretary, the Guardian can reveal.

Truss, who was in charge at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) between 2014 and 2016, oversaw ‘efficiency’ plans set out in the 2015 spending review to cut funding from the Environment Agency of £235 million.

This included a £24million reduction in a government grant for environmental protection, including monitoring water companies to prevent the dumping of raw sewage, between 2014-15 and 2016-17, according to the National Audit Office.

It accounts for almost a quarter of the funding cut in this area between 2010, when the grant was £120million, and 2020, when it was down to £40million.

Labor analysis of official figures shows that since 2016 raw sewage discharges in England and Wales have more than doubled from 14.7 spill events to 29.3 in 2021. Greenpeace said that the numbers showed Truss had “sewage on his hands”.

The Environment Agency has called on the government to reverse the cuts, but campaigners want the next prime minister to go further and also give the body the power to properly monitor water companies on waste water, rather than allowing them to self-report releases.

This follows the discovery that 24% of sewage overflow pipes at popular seaside resorts in England and Wales have either faulty monitors or none at all, meaning people could be swimming in human waste this summer without realizing it.

Last year, the head of the Environment Agency, James Bevan, called on the government to restore the funds, saying that given the length of the country’s river systems, having “only a few hundred people to supervise them is quite a high demand”.

He told MPs: ‘It has had an effect on our ability to monitor, enforce the rules and help improve the environment where we believe it needs to be done. Honestly, I would like to see this grant restored. I would love to go back to where we were 10 years ago, and I think that would make a huge difference.

Responding to the findings, shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said: “The country is facing a crisis in our water supply. Our water infrastructure is at bursting point with billions of liters of water wasted every day and raw sewage dumped into our waters.

“The fact that Liz Truss was the one to cut EA so severely demonstrates not only her lack of foresight but also her lack of attention to detail, recognizing the need to adapt to the severe flooding that had just occurred. under his watch.”

Environment Agency insiders said that after the Truss cuts, staff were moved from environmental monitoring to flood protection, and the number of samples taken from rivers dropped significantly.

Vaughan Lewis, a senior consultant for the agency, told the Guardian: “They plummeted to the point where it was impossible for the Environment Agency to know what was going on. They had no significant monitoring or surveillance capability. They ceded monitoring control to the water companies, who eventually got to score their own duties. They take their own samples and assess whether they are compliant.

“We saw it didn’t work – look at what happened with Southern Water, who didn’t report their pollution incidents and ended up being fined by EA when they were discovered There are suspicions that this could happen across the board, and it’s been left to citizen scientists to monitor and fill in the gaps.

Lewis added: “A lot of things would have happened under Liz Truss; she was there when some of these cuts were made. She was a poor minister and the Environment Agency has been wiped out and she cannot monitor or regulate effectively.

As environment secretary, Truss defended the cuts, saying “there are ways to save money as a department,” citing better use of technology and interagency work.

She is already facing questions over why she was recorded absent from a vote on a Labor amendment in the House of Commons which sought to impose legal obligations on water companies to stop polluting the waterways of England during heavy rain.

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said: “A decade of budget cuts and government deregulation has left the Environment Agency, almost literally, in a shitty creek with no paddle. The growing tsunami of sewage dumped on Britain’s waterways is a shocking demonstration of how undermining our regulators leads to disregard for nature and those who are meant to protect it.

“The fact that our likely future Prime Minister has been the instigator of cuts to the money used to protect our rivers, and thus helped bring about this environmental catastrophe, does not bode well for the protection of the natural world by the UK. Liz Truss has sewage on her hands.

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Self-policing has clearly failed for the water industry, the culture of self-reporting has clearly failed, millions of hours of pollution from sewage pours into our waterways every year, it’s a failed pattern.

Martin Salter, of the Angling Trust, said: “The consequences of these misguided cuts to the Environment Agency’s pollution monitoring capabilities are now plain and visible to all, with raw sewage flowing into our rivers and washed dead fish and other wildlife. on the banks with depressing regularity.

“Abandoning stricter regulation in favor of allowing water companies to account for their own failures has created a polluter’s charter, as evidenced by the recent lawsuit by Southern Water for deliberately falsifying its pollution data. rejection.”

The Environment Agency has long lamented its lack of funding and power, backed by a lack of ambition from ministers to tackle waste. In 2020, he said he recognized that a “huge gap is opening between the results we want to achieve and our ability to achieve them”, and felt that “at the current rate of progress”, more would be needed. 200 years to achieve the government’s goal of at least 75% of the waters close to their natural state.

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